Tending Friendships

posted in: Community, Mindfulness | 0

Make a Friend Day is on February 11, but I think it’s more important to take care of the friendships you already have, so I wanted to take this time to talk about that.

To know me, is to know that I consider community one of the most essential pieces of our well-being. Oxford defines community as 1) A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common; or 2) A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.

I’ve said many times that my community quite global in nature, and that is because I believe we all have so much more in common than differences. My community includes friends across the U.S. and around the world.

One of my dearest friends lives well over 1,000 miles from me, half way across the country. We’ve been friends for 25 years, and despite the distance, I know she’s got my back. She’s helped me through many a crisis – divorce, professional loss, the loss of my son – and I’ve spent hours crying over the phone in her ear. Our adventures are what stories are made of. We’ve traveled across the country not once, but on two separate occasions and we share that sort of comfort that long time friends have.

So it may surprise you to know that we are about as far apart politically as two people can get. Yet, we’ve made it work. We’ve had a few “challenging” times, and the past few years have been especially tough, but we’ve managed to remain friends. Mostly by agreeing to avoid politics. Sure it comes up sometimes, but we navigate through it. I know avoidance is not always the best solution, and someday maybe that will change, but it works for us right now.

What it comes down to is this: she’s an important person in my life and our friendship is bigger than our differences. I suspect she feels the same. Friendships can be fragile, and require tending from both parties to be at their best.

So, what can you do to strengthen and otherwise tend to these important relationships? Here are some thoughts:

Stay in touch.
Call, email, or (my favorite) send an old-fashioned snail mail letter or card. Let them know you’re thinking of them.
Think about what your friend needs right now. What challenges are you facing? How can you help? Let them know you’re available and concerned.

Avoid judging.
You won’t approve of anyone 100% of the time, not even yourself. Your friend will make choices you don’t agree with, and that’s okay. They don’t approve of everything you do, either. Give your advice when asked and be supportive.

Spend time together.
Friendships need time and attention to thrive. Right now that may mean via Zoom or just one of those long, catch up phone calls. When do you have time this week to spend time with the friends that mean the most to you?

Take on a challenge together.
You become closer to those you suffer with. This is one of the reasons military buddies tend to have such strong relationships. Even in long distance friendships, you can do virtual challenges such as walking, yoga or other exercise together.

Road trip.
This is probably my favorite and my long distance friend and I have taken many. Our road trips are always an adventure, because we make it so. Climb in the car and take a trip to a new place together. You’ll create plenty of memories and have all the time in the world to chat and share.

Try new things together.
We’ve checked off many of our bucket list items together, although some, like sky diving, was a solo event for me. Don’t push your friend into anything they do not want to do.

Be sure to do things that strengthen, rather than weaken your friendship. Ask yourself what you can do to be a better friend. Could you be more patient? More available? Less self-centered? Take a look at yourself and try out some positive changes.

How many friends have you lost track of over the years? How many of your friendships are weaker than they used to be? Unless you’ve intentionally tried to strengthen your friendships, they’re not as strong as they could be.

As for me, I can easily replace the word “you” with “I” in this article. I have not always been as mindful in my relationships as I want to be. So while I hope you find some useful information here, it was mostly written for me. In order to be a good friend, I need to nurture and prioritize and do all those things I just mentioned.

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